Picture the paintings of Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro and Mary Cassatt set to music. The lavender lilies, the blue of the water, the glimmer of the sun – imagine the brush strokes as notes and melodies.
That’s the kind of music you can hear Thursday, when the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra presents the second of three events in its “Know the Score” series.
Music professor Paul Ferington, who frequently conducts the orchestra, is joining the BPO at Kleinhans Music Hall for a journey through French Impressionism in painting and music. The evening is half college lecture, half performance.
“It’s a kind of multimedia thing,” Ferington says.
The BPO’s “Know the Score” concerts, spearheaded by BPO Education Director Robin Parkinson, are designed to draw a new audience. They take place on Thursdays, at the early hour of 7 p.m. Concerts are about an hour and a half long.
There is no intermission. Instead, after the concert, you are invited to mingle in the Mary Seaton Room with musicians and conductor.
BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta began the series in the fall, with Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.” In May, Matthew Kraemer, the BPO’s associate conductor, takes the audience through Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony.
“Matt and JoAnn are doing a specific piece of music. I wanted to do something a little broader, introduce folks to a specific time period,” Ferington says. “This one is going to be an aural and visual banquet. I’m going to talk about composers and, at the same time, Impressionist artists. And how the music and the artists interacted and integrated the style of Impressionism. How they influenced each other.”
Cameras will give close-ups of the various instruments, so the audience can see as well as hear what is happening. Slides of Impressionist art will be specifically coordinated to the music.
“The Albright-Knox has been very generous providing the slides,” Ferington says. “They’re going to be integrated with first Faure, then Debussy and Satie, finishing with Ravel.”
French Impressionist music and art, Ferington explains, were both a kind of backlash against what the French artists perceived as excessive emotion and romanticism, especially on the part of the Germans.
“The French musicians were reacting against the Brahms, against the Berlioz,” Ferington says. “They were reacting against the extreme emotionalism. The painters did the same thing. They reacted against paintings like Lady Liberty, Saturn devouring his son.” The Roman god Saturn devouring his children was famously depicted in the dark, rich paintings of Rubens and Goya.
“French impressionist painters reacted against the violence. So you have the very short brush strokes, the sunlight, the landscapes, water, flowers, water lilies. That’s what the opening Thursday is going to be about.”
As a musical example of what the French objected to, the BPO is setting the stage by playing the finale from Brahms’ Symphony No. 1. Many listeners stir to its noble themes. From a French Impressionist perspective, though, the symphony was romantic to a fault.
“It’s very aggressive, very powerful,” Ferington says.
“The French said, we are tired of sauerkraut. We don’t want any more of this emotionalism, we don’t want any more of the Erlkonig where the son is dead in the father’s arms.” “Erlkonig,” or “The Erl King,” is a dark-themed poem by Goethe set to music by Schubert and others.
Ferington plans on creating “a large informal classroom” in Kleinhans on Thursday.
“My goal is that folks will want to know more about Satie or Renoir or Cassatt or Debussy, pursue things a little bit more,” he says.